The human behind the refugee category (Discover Society)

Marcia Vera Espinoza writes for Discover Society,

We question refugees’ motivations, scrutinize their stories, generalize their persecution, feel sorry for their plight, and invisiblize their individuality among the numbers that frame their displacement. The category that gives refugees international protection is the same that singles them out as a member of what seems to be a homogeneous group: refugees. By using this category in this way we generalize about their lives, we claim to understand their needs and we aim to find ‘solutions’ for them.

Refugees’ representations are a product of the same migration industry that facilitates, restricts and frames their displacement. Media, politicians, international organizations, practitioners and academics, we all contribute to binary narratives about refugees. By doing so, we form understandings of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ refugees, those that wait to be resettled or the ones that cross borders and seek asylum. There are ‘victims’ or ‘heroes’, those people that are deemed worthy of our solidarity or those that are flagship of human strength and resilience. There are also the ones we fear. And to a greater extent, there are those refugees whose stories we don’t know. In this brief text I review some of those common narratives and where and by whom they are produced, as well as some of the understandings refugees themselves have about the category that frames their experiences.